The Humanitarian Encyclopedia

An interactive platform to better understand humanitarian concepts and practice

The Humanitarian Encyclopedia is an exciting project offering a conceptual framework for humanitarian action, and providing a dynamic platform for national and international practitioners, community leaders, policy makers and academics to reflect on humanitarian concepts and practice for the 21st century.


  • To improve the quality of humanitarian dialogues and debates
  • To contribute to the improvement of humanitarian strategies and policies
  • To highlight operational challenges with regards to concepts
  • To strengthen the localization process acknowledging the role of diverse stakeholders


In order to respond timely and adequately to humanitarian needs, the humanitarian sector needs to constantly evolve with agility and pertinence. It has to do this in an environment of multiple tensions and pressures to deliver, to integrate a wide array of stakeholders and to address various issues and challenges. In order to evolve in this changing environment, it is important to be able to understand and properly formulate the main concepts developed in the humanitarian sector and analyze related operational issues.

However, the sector lacks a common reference framework, an intelligible and articulated scientific body of conceptual analyses. There is no common understanding, whether cultural or historical, theoretical or practical, of central terms such as “humanitarianism”, “humanitarian action”, or even “humanitarian context and crisis”. The frontiers between humanitarian action and development remain blurred, arguably increasingly so. There are emerging concepts such as “resilience” that are frequently used but not properly analysed nor consensually understood. In exploratory interviews with more than 100 organizations, it was highlighted that conceptual confusions can negatively affect policies, practices and quality.

Aware of this gap and with a common willingness to respond to it, emerged the idea to collaboratively design a hub of knowledge co-creation and exchange with academia and humanitarian stakeholders – The Humanitarian Encyclopedia was born.


Designed as a living process, the Humanitarian Encyclopedia will develop a cross-cultural, transdisciplinary, multi-sectorial and non-prescriptive review of key humanitarian concepts, combining theoretical and empirical analyses with field-based research.  

The online platform to be launched in 2020 will be interactive and inclusive, inviting dialogue from anyone concerned with humanitarian aid into additional co-creation, attentive to include national actors as well as international stakeholders, and to enhance localized knowledge.

Engagements through collaborations and partnerships will be central, in particular with academia and think tanks, humanitarian organizations, humanitarian support groups, policy makers and technology support partners, as well as community leaders from affected populations. The mobilization of a wide community of stakeholders and end-users recognizes them as valid sources for knowledge production. Special attention will be given to the existing initiatives in order to ensure complementarities and leverages, and to avoid overlap.

Recent news

Workshop in Mexico – February 2019
The workshop was organised by one of the Humanitarian Encyclopedia scientific committee member, Simone Lucatello (Academia, Instituto Mora) jointly with Juan Pablo Farias, the OCHA…
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ALNAP research has consistently found a high degree of terminology inconsistency for key humanitarian concepts. This can often result in a lack of clarity at both a theoretical and practical level. An initiative aimed at finding a shared understanding for these concepts has the potential to make collective action more effective and bring about changes and improvements in humanitarian action.
John Mitchell, ALNAP Director
In recent years, CERAH has become an internationally recognized educational platform. The Humanitarian Encyclopedia Project marks a new milestone, as an ambitious research project elaborated under the auspices of CERAH. We thank the Swiss Development and Cooperation agency (SDC) as well as the Advisory Board and members of the Scientific Committee for their support to this project, and wish you every success. In this context, we at the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies intend not only to maintain our support to CERAH. We also plan to enhance that support through greater involvement of our professors in CERAH’s teaching and research activities.
Prof Y. Fluckiger, Rector, University of Geneva & Prof P. Burrin, Director, IHEID
With greater localisation of humanitarian action, ADRRN sees immense value in the Encyclopedia project. We see it as a bridge-building as well as a learning tool for dialogue and joint action with the increasing number and variety of actors.
Manu GUPTA, Chairperson, Asian Disaster Reduction & Response Network (ADRRN)